Mar 052012

Droid-RazrI have to confess that I’ve been a little annoyed with some of Leo Babauta’s posts rejecting such things as iphones in the name of minimalism. To me, the neat thing about technology is that it can help you embrace minimalism by doing more with fewer devices.

I had held off on getting a smartphone simply because I didn’t think I’d use the features enough to justify an additional $30 a month on my phone bill for a data plan. Then my daughter got a Droid Razr, and when I saw everything it could do, I was hooked, and ran out and got one within the week.

My justification was that it could do so many things. My GPS had just broken – but my phone was now a better GPS than my stand-alone GPS. The Droid was a better MP3 player than my now-obsolete MP3 player. It was a serviceable e-book reader, so I’d always have a book with me. It keeps my schedules, to-do lists and emails. It can record voice memos and even transcribe them. It’s a great camera (ok, I don’t take many pictures, but it can save the day when you need one).  I have an excellent Bible reader on it, a meditation timer, and links to all my important documents. The last few weeks I’ve been saying Mass with just my Droid to serve as lectionary, scripture reader and music player. I even used it for meditation diaries and dream journals.

Funny thing, though, about those dream journals. Night after night after night, ALL I was dreaming about was setting up my new phone. Only natural, since I spend uncounted hours getting it “just right” and then scrapping it all again for another arrangement. I spent lots of additional time looking for just the right combination of apps. More still organizing my music. If the device was saving me any time, it was more than making up for it in the time I was investing in setting it up.

The other day, I switched back to a paper journal for dream and meditation journals. Even with voice transcription, it was just taking too long to put in a journal entry. My entries were getting shorter and shorter. So what if I don’t have access to my journal everywhere in the cloud? At least it has more worthwhile entries.

So… has the phone improved my life, or just made me its servant? I’m hoping that as my setup stabilizes and the novelty wears off, it will simply become a handy device that sits unobtrusively in my pocket and insures that I don’t have to carry a phone, camera, GPS, voice recorder, my latest book, my planner, my Bible, lectionary, mp3 player, etc. around with me all the time.

But I’m beginning to have a bit more respect for Babauta’s opinion that having the latest device carries its share of attachment to possessions.  Fewer possessions, perhaps – but definitely more attachment.

Feb 022010

One Year to an Organized Work Life by Regina Leeds. I had previously reviewed two other books by Regina Leeds (the “Zen” Organizer) . Those were One Year to an Organized Life and One Year to an Organized Financial Life. Since both were excellent, I was really looking forward to the middle book in the series, dedicated to organizing your work life. After all, I spend a lot of time at work, and the consequences of being disorganize at work can be even more serious than falling to pieces at home.

I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful book on workplace organization – but even more, on integrating your work life and your personal life seamlessly. As with her other “one-year” books, Regina takes what could be a daunting subject and makes it manageable by breaking it down into easy weekly goals for a one-year gradual makeover. Follow the program and you end up with a complete organizational makeover for your work life. You can pick up the book and start the program at any time, as most of the assignments are not prerequisites of each other.

Each month also includes a work “habit of the month” and a HOME “habit of the month”. What’s really amazing is the range of topics covered in this book. It’s not just another book on time management and paperwork. Sure, there are excellent chapters on those topics, but there are also a lot of topics that you don’t often see discussed. How to pack for a business trip. How to prepare your office to run smoothly while you’re on vacation. How to integrate your holiday plans with your work responsibilities. How to organize your computer, laptop and other virtual environments.

As usual, Regina devotes considerable time not simply to the mechanics of organizing, but to your mental attitudes. How to set goals, understand and overcome procrastination, and how to balance your family and work responsibilities.  Even how to plan your vacation. She never forgets that the purpose of organization is not simply for it’s own sake, but to make our lives better. She also keeps an eye out for the particular needs of the working woman, which is a topic where some other books fall short.

You can get excellent specialized books in any of the several areas Regina covers in this book – from goal setting to filing and paperwork. But for a well-constructed plan to overhaul every aspect of your work organization, it’s hard to beat this book. Give Regina a year and she’ll make your work life sparkle.

Jan 212010

I was starting to read Regina Leed’s book One Year to an Organized Work Life (which I hope to review soon) and happened on this wonderful little tidbit on why you should make your bed. Now I don’t really have a problem with making the bed. I’m used to it now and it bother’s me if it isn’t done. But I have to admit that some days I wonder just what the point it. After all, I’m going to mess it up again the next night. No one but me is going to see it. Why bother. If I were a bachelor, it probably wouldn’t get made very often.

But Regina had this to say:

“An unmade bed signals that there is no end to your day; you are dragging the activities, emotions, and energy of one day into the next without ever giving yourself the experience of a fresh start. When you make your bed, you will feel energized every time you walk into your bedroom.”

I hadn’t looked at it from quite that perspective – organization as a spiritual symbol to your mind. And why not? As a priest, I believe in the power of physical symbols to effectively represent spiritual realities – often much better than words ever could. A spiritual symbol such as a cross or communion can impact the spirit on a powerful and unconscious level. Making your bed can be a sort of sacrament. It communicates hope for a new day and a fresh beginning to a spirit that needs refreshing.

I suppose this is something of the appeal of Feng Shui, which I have to admit I haven’t taken all that seriously. Not that I don’t enjoy a well-organized and beautiful room. But the Taoist details – such as which direction things have to be arranged in, I have to admit that I really didn’t have much use for. But to people who are steeped in Taoist tradition, I can see how these details in a room’s organization would resonate on a subconscious level with years of previous associations. I’m still not sure it resonates all that well with Americans ignorant of Taoist symbology.

Feel free to disagree (or agree for that matter) in the comments.

Nov 242009

calendar I had heard good things about Regina Leeds as an organizer, and decided to read her book One Year to an Organized Life. Call me sexist, but for some reason I haven’t gotten a lot out of organizational books by women. Perhaps it’s just the books I’ve picked, but they seem to focus on a more detailed level than I want. Of course, you could argue that it is just this level of detail that I most need.

But Regina’s book is a bit different. This isn’t simply a book of abstract principles or isolated hints. It’s a complete program for overhauling every aspect of your life over the course of a year. You can start the program at any time, because she has arranged completely independent sets of tasks, projects and experiments for each month (actually, for every WEEK of every month of the year). And these tasks include not only lists of areas of your life to organize (with excellent suggestions) but also such projects as journaling and analysis of your habits.

It’s the perfect book for someone who has no idea where to begin with organization and wants a complete step-by-step program. And since it’s arranged by the year, it would make an excellent Christmas gift for someone who wants to start the year off right. Regina will take you through getting your luggage in order, finding the right address book, decorating for the holidays and buying gifts – and virtually every organizational aspect of your life.

Regina is known as the “Zen Organizer”. Compared to the minimalism of someone like Steve Babauta, I think using the word “Zen” in connection with such a detailed organizational system might seem a bit misplaced – but I understand what’s intended. Regina’s book is just as concerned with the mental aspects of organizing, and the enjoyment of additional free time as it is with little tricks for conquering clutter.

Overall, an excellently done book – especially for someone who needs a complete organizational makeover.

Oct 312009

3088163662_f0df4f9508I’m the kind of person who likes some spontaneity in my life. I don’t like schedules. I don’t like a to-do list. I want to be free to do whatever strikes me.  So, for many years, I resisted using a planner or organizer.

Finally, I was at a seminar where Hyrum Smith taught how to use a day-planner. I started using one, and I have to admit that it was one of the best changes I ever made. My ability to remember things and accomplish my goals and tasks dramatically improved. But I still thought of it as a compromise of my artistic,  spontaneous principles.

Finally, I read David Allen’s book – Getting Things Done – known in the organizational community as GTD. His explanations of the need for an organizational system finally penetrated my philosophical resistance.  Allen explained the psychology of organization.  Suppose you have an upcoming appointment or a critical task – and you have NOT written it down in a trustworthy system.  Even if you are not consciously worried about it, there will be some part of your  mind that KNOWS you have that appointment, and is always worried about whether you will remember it.  There will be a subtle background of stress and worry, even if you aren’t completely aware of it. And that stress and worry will make it harder for you to relax or to devote all your mind to creating and producing anything.

On the other hand, if you have a reliable system for capturing those appointments and tasks, and if you have captured them, and if your mind KNOWS that – at the right time, your system will remind you – then you can relax. Your mind will be free to relax, enjoy life and create wonderful things – the moment it knows it can trust your external system to bring things to your attention. The trick is to get everything OUT of your mind and INTO your external system.

Look at it this way. If I have a planner, and I book an appointment for two weeks from now, and I know that I will check that planner every day – then I can completely forget about that appointment until two weeks from now. On the other hand, if I don’t have a planner or other system, then some part of my mind will occupy itself – for two whole weeks, with trying to remember the appointment.

You don’t use organizational systems and planners so that you can obsess about things. You use them so that you can put things out of your mind until absolutely necessary. Organization frees the space for spontaneity.

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